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Extraordinary Beliefs
A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem


  • Date Published: February 2013
  • availability: Temporarily unavailable - available from TBC
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107019331

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About the Authors
  • Since the early nineteenth century, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have exhibited extraordinary phenomena. These have been demonstrated, reported and disputed by every modern generation. We continue to wonder why people believe in such things, while others wonder why they are dismissed so easily. Extraordinary Beliefs takes a historical approach to an ongoing psychological problem: why do people believe in extraordinary phenomena? It considers the phenomena that have been associated with mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research and parapsychology. By drawing upon conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis, it examines how such phenomena have been made convincing in demonstration and report, and then disputed endlessly. It argues that we cannot understand extraordinary beliefs unless we properly consider the events in which people believe, and what people believe about them. And it shows how, in constructing and maintaining particular beliefs about particular phenomena, we have been in the business of constructing ourselves.

    • Examines both belief and disbelief in extraordinary phenomena
    • Discusses how extraordinary phenomena were made convincing by those who demonstrated them and by those who reported them
    • Provides a new understanding of extraordinary phenomena, beliefs about them, and the wider psychological relevance of their production and reception, past and present
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Outstanding clarity, penetrating argument and a series of fascinating examples make this an accessible and profoundly insightful read, whether for academics and their students or the legendary general reader. As well as its obvious relevance to historians and psychologists, it has much to offer to social scientists.' Barry Barnes, University of Exeter

    'Lamont offers a thought-provoking and sophisticated examination of the way that debates about claims to paranormal abilities rely on their historical context as much as scientific evidence. He makes a compelling case for the value of historical scholarship in psychological research, and raises important questions about the status of psychology as a science.' Robin Wooffitt, University of York

    'A must for anyone interested in psychology, the history of spiritualism and the mediumship in performances - fascinating and brilliantly researched.' Kindred Spirit

    'A balanced, systematic framework for understanding why some people have believed in unusual things and others have not … a challenging and thought-provoking read.' Magic Magazine

    'Lamont has enriched our knowledge of both our history and our processes of belief formation. This is a very important contribution to the field that has the additional advantage of being a delight to read.' Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

    'The book will interest historians of marginal science, who will benefit from Lamont's deep knowledge of the arts of misdirection and precision around method. It will also appeal to those scholars concerned with the reflexive nature of the human sciences who want to push the history of psychology toward a historical psychology of ourselves.' Isis

    'The attention to historical research in the book is noteworthy, and the writing, especially when discussing historical cases, is engaging … What [Lamont] has accomplished is as good as any conjuring stage performance. Mixing solid historical analysis with the psychology of belief, he has produced an effect both engaging and informative.' Fides et Historia

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107019331
    • length: 336 pages
    • dimensions: 234 x 157 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.65kg
    • availability: Temporarily unavailable - available from TBC
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. The making of the extraordinary
    3. The making of mesmeric phenomena
    4. The making of spiritualist phenomena
    5. The making of psychic phenomena
    6. The making of paranormal phenomena
    7. The making of extraordinary beliefs.

  • Author

    Peter Lamont, University of Edinburgh
    Dr Peter Lamont is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh. He is Programme Director of the MSc in History and Theory of Psychology, and Honorary Secretary of the British Psychological Society (History and Philosophy of Psychology Section). He is also a longstanding member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, a former professional magician, an Associate of the Inner Magic Circle and Past President of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. He has published extensively on the history and psychology of magic and the paranormal.

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